The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

November 5, 2012

David Wallace, guest columnist: DWI court will save lives, money in Jasper County

There is a proven cost-effective method for reducing the cycle of repeat drunken driving, and I urge Jasper County to steer down the right road.

Jasper County judges and others are advocating for a DWI court, as recently reported in The Joplin Globe (”County considering budget request for new DWI court,” Oct. 19).

Jasper County will be well served to take advantage of this rehabilitative court model: saving precious taxpayer money, keeping Jasper County roads safer, and changing the behavior of addicted individuals to productive, law-abiding citizens.

Clearly, traditional sentencing has had little effect on the behavior of repeat DWI offenders in Jasper County, in Missouri or throughout the country.  Most are unable to change because of an addiction to alcohol. These drunken drivers must be held accountable for their actions, but we must also address the underlying cause of their behavior by mandating that they receive intensive long-term treatment.

This approach is not an experiment. There are more than 600 DWI courts nationwide, including 57 outstanding courts in Missouri. They are an extension of the drug court model, the nation’s most successful and cost-effective criminal justice intervention for substance abuse.

DWI courts are “accountability courts” targeting repeat offenders. Accountability is brought to bear by a team of specially trained court professionals. Participants are regularly tested for alcohol use, required to appear weekly in court, and receive incentives for doing well and sanctions for not living up to their obligations to themselves and their communities. But accountability is only half the strategy; participants also receive individualized, long-term and rigorous treatment. This combination of close supervision and intense treatment has been proved to get repeat offenders to stop drinking and driving. A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that repeat DWI offenders graduating from DWI courts are up to 65 percent less likely to be rearrested for a new DWI offense.

Judges like Jasper County Circuit Judge Gayle Crane have seen firsthand the “revolving door” of repeat offenders and the negative affect it has on families. The devastation is evident in Jasper County every time children of drunken drivers appear in court to face their own charges. Nationwide, incarceration ignites repercussions for families and communities. Statistics show about 70 percent of kids who have a jailed parent will at some point end up behind bars. Children of an incarcerated parent may also end up in protective services or have mental health issues like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

We live in tough economic times with limited resources. We must invest in programs proven to work and provide a return on investment. DWI courts are the only viable solution to stopping a cycle of repeat drunken driving. Jail alone only acts as a stopgap — both for the dangerously addicted offender and for the community. I strongly encourage Jasper County to follow the lead of 57 other jurisdictions in Missouri and create a DWI court. Only then will we put the brakes on repeat drunken driving.

David Wallace is senior director of the National Center for DWI Courts.  

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